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  A Yankee in the Trenches R. Derby Holmes

A Trench Raid

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In the morning the members of the raiding party were taken back a mile or so to the rear and were given instruction and rehearsal. This was the first raid that "Batt" had ever tried, and the staff was anxious to have it a success. There were fifty in the party, and Blofeld, who had organized the raid, beat our instructions into us until we knew them by heart.

The object of a raid is to get into the enemy's trenches by stealth if possible, kill as many as possible, take prisoners if practicable, do a lot of damage, and get away with a whole hide.

We got back to the front trenches just before dark. I noticed a lot of metal cylinders arranged along the parapet. They were about as big as a stovepipe and four feet long, painted brown. They were the gas containers. They were arranged about four or five to a traverse, and were connected up by tubes and were covered with sandbags. This was the poison gas ready for release over the top through tubes.

The time set for our stunt was eleven P.M. Eleven o'clock was "zero." The system on the Western Front, and, in fact, all fronts, is to indicate the time fixed for any event as zero. Anything before or after is spoken of as plus or minus zero.

Around five o'clock we were taken back to Mechanics trench and fed--a regular meal with plenty of everything, and all good. It looked rather like giving a condemned man a hearty meal, but grub is always acceptable to a soldier.

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After that we blacked our faces. This is always done to prevent the whiteness of the skin from showing under the flare lights. Also to distinguish your own men when you get to the Boche trench.

Then we wrote letters and gave up our identification discs and were served with persuader sticks or knuckle knives, and with "Mills" bombs.

The persuader is a short, heavy bludgeon with a nail-studded head. You thump Fritz on the head with it. Very handy at close quarters. The knuckle knife is a short dagger with a heavy brass hilt that covers the hand. Also very good for close work, as you can either strike or stab with it.

We moved up to the front trenches at about half-past ten. At zero minus ten, that is, ten minutes of eleven, our artillery opened up. It was the first bombardment I had ever been under, and it seemed as though all the guns in the world were banging away. Afterwards I found that it was comparatively light, but it didn't seem so then.

The guns were hardly started when there was a sound like escaping steam. Jerry leaned over and shouted in my ear: "There goes the gas. May it finish the blighters."

Blofeld came dashing up just then, very much excited because he found we had not put on our masks, through some slip-up in the orders. We got into them quick. But as it turned out there was no need. There was a fifteen-mile wind blowing, which carried the gas away from us very rapidly. In fact it blew it across the Boche trenches so fast that it didn't bother them either.

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A Yankee in the Trenches
R. Derby Holmes

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